The Stories Behind the Stores Part 2: - Trend-Setters 

The second part in this series reveals Japan’s department store’s remarkable knack for trend-setting.

White Day

White Day.png

Did you know that Japan has a Valentine’s Day part two, called ‘White Day?

It was a stall inside Isetan department store in 1958 that’s often credited with Japan’s first attempt to market Valentine’s Day - but with a twist. It’s women who give chocolate to men.

White Day on March 14th, gives men a chance to give back to the ladies. Invented in 1980 by the National Confectionery Industry Association of Japan, it kicked off with a campaign to ‘Return the Love on White Day’. And as with Valentine’s Day, department stores lead the way in getting the word out.

The buildup to the first ever White Day involved uniformed ‘Candy Girls’ handing out samples in Mitsukoshi Ginza, Tokyu Shibuya and Isetan Shinjuku. And on the day, Mitsukoshi Ginza’s basement was crammed with pop-up stalls from 13 different confectioners.

Nowadays, ladies are also often reciprocated with lavish gifts like jewellery. But with the continued prestige of confectionary gifting, department store basements are still the best places to spot men scrambling for last minute gifts.

The Mitsukoshi Runway

Now, a powerful runway strut. Then, a traditional Japanese dance against a backdrop of marble and gold.

In 1927, Japan’s very first fashion show was staged in Mitsukoshi department store, in Mitsukoshi Hall (now known as Mitsukoshi Theater). 

Since there were no fashion shows at that time, there was also no such thing as fashion models. But that didn’t hold them back; instead they enlisted famous actresses of the time such as Yaeko Mizutani (pictured).

Foregoing the burgeoning trend for Western clothing, new kimono designs were showcased through traditional Japanese dance performances.

Mitsukoshi Theater remains largely unchanged with hand-stained glass and gold decorations adorning its walls and arches, while lavish floral motifs accentuate the balcony seating.

Department stores continue to be at the forefront of high-end fashion in Tokyo. In recent years three department stores in Ginza; Matsuya, Mitsukoshi and Printemps, collaborated to hold Ginza Fashion Week.

The Delivery Automobile

Early twentieth century, department stores were battling to display prestige.

Mitsukoshi won over many by being Japan’s first to use a delivery automobile to transport their wares in 1905. At a time when automobiles of any kind were still incredibly rare, imagine the excitement of getting your shopping delivered in this ultra-modern fashion!

Mitsukoshi’s willingness and flexibility to court new technologies and innovations made them the talk of Tokyo.

Mitsukoshi is one of the oldest department stores in Japan. After starting as a one-man kimono fabric business, the company grew incorporating more products to their repertoire as they went. They became the first incorporated public company known as a department store in 1904.

Part 3 of this series fast-forwards to today and shows how Japan’s store are attempting to engage customers with though online and offline experiences.

We’ve just started a Facebook page dedicated to these stories and more. Please visit and LIKE us!

Image Credits:

Keiichiro Yuri collection

Isetan Mitsukoshi

Wikipedia/Yaeko Mizutani

The Stories Behind the Stores Part 1: Rebellion and Innovation

You may know from my first blog for AMC, that last year I began research into the strategies of Japan’s major department stores, and others worldwide, in tackling their apparent demise brought about by recent changes in lifestyles and consumer behaviour. And in particular, how they could leverage online content experiences to get people engaged in their brand and ultimately get them back in stores. 

A Lost Cause?

“Japan department store sales hit 36-year low in 2016”.

Department stores cannot compete with online shopping "because they are bland and predictable”.

Gone are the days when families “would go and spend a day buying what they need or want”.

What started as a regular marketing project for me has now become something of an obsession and personal cause for Japan’s stores to once again become a ‘retail destination’. 

So, through a series of forthcoming blogs, I’d like to share some insightful stories that my research has uncovered.

Department Stores Began With Kimono

Many of the word’s oldest and most prestigious department stores share humble beginnings as fabric shops and merchants. In Japan they began with Kimono, which once also symbolised class rebellion and fashion innovation.

Forbidden Colours

The Edo period was a stable time in Japan’s history, allowing the merchant class to thrive. And many flaunted their wealth with kimonos in peacock-like personal display.

This over-dressing became a threat to the ruling classes, and they outlawed lavish clothing for the underclasses in order to protect the strict hierarchy. So the merchants developed their own fashions, characterised by subtle colours and detailing.

But the lure of bright colours could not be resisted; lining and underclothes, not restricted by the laws became red. The forbidden colour spilled out tantalizingly when women’s long sleeves fell back.

Popularity in the West

In the late 19th century, spurred by a fad for all things Japanese, kimono styles were popularised in the West by bourgeois ladies who wore casual variations as ‘housecoats’ - without the restraining obi belt.


Then Parisian couturiers Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet began experimenting with the kimono in the 1920s. And it was around the same time back in Japan that Western trends began to accentuate the traditional kimono outfit.

The Jazz Age

The early 20th century was a hedonistic time. Kimono were draped lavishly in extravagant displays alongside Western imports.

This poster of a lady in a kimono with an imported parasol and handbag was used to advertise the opening of Mitsukoshi department store in Shinjuku in 1925. The lady flaunts a bobbed hairstyle and the child by her side is dressed fully in Western clothing.

Rather than being sidelined by the new foreign styles, the kimono co-existed for a highly fashionable effect.

Part 2 of this department stores series continues with tales of classic and modern innovations.

We’ve just started a Facebook page dedicated to these stories and more. Please visit andLIKE us!

Image credits:

Lady in Kimono, 1925: Hisui/Mitsukosh

Classic kimono collection / Western lady in housecoat: J. Front Retailing Archives Foundation Inc./Nagoya City Museum


First blog for AMC:

36-year low:,783385.html#.WLdi9hhh0lI

Bland and predictable:

Gone are the days:


Popularized in the West:,796489.html#.WMEaexhh0lJ

AN-YAL Faxebook page:


Why I Do, What I Do - The Beauty in all Things

There is a common understanding that marketers are there to persuade people to buy something by creating messages with clever undertones to evoke some kind of need.

I am a marketer so I can’t be completely unbiassed. But how about looking at it in a different way?

The reason that I love my work is because it gives me the opportunity to explore what people crave.  To find the beauty in all things, though simple and normal, and bring that beauty back to them by carving it into an experience that they can ‘get into’. 

This could be through words, visuals, human exchanges, almost anything and any combination or variation. You can call this ‘content’ because the experience is hoped to lead to a conversion; that is, the audience will react in a particular way that is profitable to a brand.

The Craft

One important attribution of content is ‘choice’. Particularly social media content. It’s your choice. You choose the platforms and channels, you decide what to like and what to share, and nobody is forcing you to buy anything (if they are, it’s not content). The reason that you engage is because it’s meaningful to you.

So what does this all mean? To me, it means adventure. Constant listening and constant learning about people, their loves and their lives.  And then with these insights, I ‘craft’. 

I’d never thought of what I do as a craft, until a very brief but inspired conversation over lunch with AMC’s Mark Singer. Until that point, I’d used the term ‘create’ — content creation.  Mark said, “What you do is craft”; painstakingly augmenting an experience to resonate with the audience, but only until you yourself are happy with it. 

And that’s very true, otherwise I don’t see the point in doing it.

The ‘Why?’ 

Recently, I was asked to produce a content strategy for a hotel concierge app developer (not particularly exciting). I asked rudimentary questions about product features, business goals, objectives, budget, etc. But I also asked this: “Who do you admire for thought leadership?” Why? Because my craft also involves speaking in another person’s voice and telling their story, not simply their functionality.


And, his answer served me greatly in another way. I made a discovery that resonates with me: a classic TED Talk by Simon Sinek (with over 30 million views), ‘How great leaders inspire action’. Sinek shows how great influencers appeal to the emotion and values of their audience by expressing “why” they are doing what they are doing.

Ask yourself, ‘why?'


Simon Sinek